• John Edwards walks free after trial collapses in confusion
• ‘I don’t think God’s through with me,’ Edwards says
• Judge dismisses jury and declares mistrial on five counts
• Jury finds Edwards found not guilty on one charge
• US Court of Appeal rules Doma unconstitutional
6.20pm: The best deconstruction of the bungled case against John Edwards is that from the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen, who sums it all up neatly:
The Edwards’ acquittal and mistrial thus mark an untidy end to an era in campaign-finance law prosecutions. We will likely never see its like again (just as we had never seen its like before). In the age of Citizens United, and Sheldon Adelson and the gang, jurors simply aren’t going to buy the idea of criminalizing this sort of conduct. Or at least jurors aren’t going to do so without a clear sign from Congress or the Supreme Court that such donations are worth making a federal case about. And to me that says more about our judges and legislators than it does about our jurors.
6pm: So today’s result is great news for John Edwards. And do you know who it’s bad news for? This guy: George Holding, the US attorney who brought the prosecution against Edwards, and is now running for Congress in North Carolina’s 13th congressional district. As a Republican.
5.41pm: Video here – via BuzzFeed Politics and MSNBC – of John Edwards’s statement outside the courtroom earlier this afternoon.
5.38pm: Will the Department of Justice attempt to retry John Edwards on the remaining five charges?
My colleague Dominic Rushe talks to Robert Mintz, a former Federal prosecutor and now a partner at McCarter English, who thinks it won’t:
Typically prosecutors do retry cases in which they do not get a conviction but this may be the exception. The prosecutors will have to take a cold, hard look at whether they would receive a better verdict from a different jury.
The judge was generally favourable to the government throughout this trial, given the state of the law and the facts of the case, the likelihood is they would receive the same verdict. It’s hard to imagine that this case will get better for them ahead of another trial.
5.34pm: And just to make the day even more exciting, a judge in Florida has overturned a section of the Sunshine state’s onerous new voter registration law. Reuters reports:
A Florida election law requiring third-party groups to turn in voter registration forms within 48 hours is “harsh and impractical,” a federal judge ruled on
US District Judge Robert Hinkle blocked enforcement of that provision, but left intact most of the election law passed last year by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.
Still, that won’t stop the state of Florida from trying to disenfranchise 91-year-old second world war veterans.
5.24pm: AP has some more colour from inside the John Edwards trial courtroom in North Carolina:
When the not guilty verdict was read, Edwards choked up, put a single finger to his lip and took a moment to compose himself. He turned to his daughter, Cate, in the first row and smiled.
When the judge declared the mistrial and discharged the jury, Edwards hugged his daughter, his parents and his attorneys.
5.15pm: John Edwards pays tribute to his family members, including his father who just turned 80, and his daughter Cate who accompanied to court every day, “no matter how painful the evidence was for her … she never once flinched”.
And then he also mentions Quinn, his daughter born to Rielle Hunter, at the centre of this whole affair:
And then finally my precious Quinn – who I love more than any of you can ever imagine, and I am so close to and so, so grateful for, so grateful for Quinn. I’m grateful for all of my children, including my son Wade who we lost years ago.
Wade was the son of Edwards and his wife Elizabeth, killed in a car accident at the age of 16.
Then Edwards goes on to say: “I don’t think God’s through with me, I really believe He thinks there’s still some good things I can do”:
What I’m hopeful about, is all those kids I’ve seen, in the poorest parts of this country and in some of the poorest places of the world, that I can help them, in whatever way I’m still capable to help them.
5.10pm: John Edwards himself steps to the microphone in front of the courthouse and speaks to the camera.
He pays tribute to the jury: “I think those jurors were an exemplar for what juries are supposed to be.” He went on:
While I do not believe I did anything illegal or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong and there is no one else is responsible for my sins…. I am responsible. And if I want to find the person who should be held accountable for my sins, honestly I don’t have to go any farther than the mirror. It is me. It is me and me alone.
5.05pm: The New York Times gives its report on the Edwards verdict:
The verdict came on the third count, which involved donations from the heiress Rachel Mellon. Mrs Mellon gave more than $725,000 to help Mr Edwards during his 2008 presidential campaign, during which large sums were spent to cover up an affair between Mr Edwards and a former staff videographer, Rielle Hunter, with whom he conceived a daughter.
The third count involves a $200,000 check Mrs Mellon wrote in 2008 as the Edwards campaign was collapsing. The check was not cashed until after the campaign had ended.
4.37pm: In summary: John Edwards was found not guilty on one count of accepting illegal campaign contributions, and the judge declared a mistrial on the other five charges – three counts of receiving illegal campaign contributions, one count of conspiracy, one count of making false statements– after the jury remained deadlocked.
Edwards walks free, the Department of Justice can decide whether to try again on the remaining five charges. But it is likely to drop the case entirely.
4.34pm: Still waiting for the smoke to clear on this John Edwards trial decision – as soon as someone who knows what they are talking about says something sensible, we’ll let you know. It may be June before that happens. 2013.
4.28pm: There are also reports that the jury has been dismissed by the judge – meaning the John Edwards trial is officially over.
“This trial is over?” wonders Gloria Borger on CNN, filling in for Wolf Blitzer for the first and probably last time. Yes, it seems it is.
Will there be another trial? “My sense is no,” says Jeffrey Tobin. “To be clear, John Edwards won this trail, the department of justice lost this trial.”
What does it all mean? Three words: John Edwards 2016. Obviously that’s insane.
4.27pm: The jury has found John Edwards not guilty on count three – and are deadlocked on the other five charges.
Still waiting for more details – but John Edwards is not guilty on the one count of using illegal campaign contributions.
4.23pm: NBC News is now reporting that the judge has declared a mistrial in all of the remaining charges in the John Edwards trial.
More as soon as we get it.
4.15pm: According to a colleague on Gchat who is following somebody on Twitter who is following somebody on Twitter, a radio station in North Carolina has tweeted that the jury is heading back into court in the John Edwards trial.
Yes that is how modern journalism works. Don’t judge me.
4pm: Oh god. The jury has sent another note to the judge. That could mean either they want to announce the other five decisions, or they’ve run out of half & half in the jury room.
From the archives, here’s a photo of John Edwards to make Democrats feel queasy. If Ohio had voted for John Kerry in 2004, then Vice President John Edwards would now be finishing up his second term in office and wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination for the 2012 election. Eek.
3.55pm: Remember that business about Fox News‘s Fox & Friends anti-Obama attack ad? That was about a million years ago, meaning yesterday.
Anyway, it turns out the Fox News producer that made the video has suffered harsh consequences. According to the NYT’s Jeremy Peters: “Fox News producer who was set to go to CNN before he made that anti-Obama vid has his offer revoked. Whether he stays at Fox unclear.”
3.45pm: The excitement over the John Edwards trial verdict appears to have come from a miscommunication between the jury and the judge.
According to AP, US district judge Catherine Eagles mistakenly believed the jurors had reached a verdict on all six counts. Instead, the jury told the judge they had a unanimous decision on only one charge involving funds from 101-year-old heiress Bunny Mellon.
“I was obviously under the impression you had reached a verdict on all six counts,” Eagles said, AP reports.
The one verdict was not read, and Judge Eagles apologised for calling the jury into the courtroom and then sending them back for more deliberations.
AP also reported: “Edwards appeared happy and smiled at his family.” It didn’t specify precisely which family he smiled at.
It’s pretty much like the first season of The Killing.
3.40pm: The John Edwards jury has been given something called an “Allen charge,” in which the jury is giving a ticking off by the judge and told to grit their teeth, pull up socks and so forth and come to a decision, goddamit, because this thing is costing money.
3.30pm: To enable you to keep score, here’s a summary of today’s major news events:
• Obama’s campaign manager David Axelrod held a press conference in which he was drowned out by Romney-supporting hecklers
• Mitt Romney held a press conference that was obliterated by the unveiling of former president George Bush’s official White House portrait
• The jury hearing charges against former Democratic candidate John Edwards assembled to give a verdict, then it didn’t
The future Wikipedia entry for 31 May 2012 will simply read: “Meh.” Except that a federal Court of Appeal ruled the Defence of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional, so there was that.
3.20pm: Bunny Mellon, the heiress at the centre of the John Edwards trial, is 101 years old. In case you were wondering.
3.10pm: According to the Associated Press: “Judge tells John Edwards jury to keep deliberating after they reach verdict in 1 of 6 counts.”
So a verdict on one charge has been reached, although we don’t know what the verdict is. It’s been that sort of day.
More from AP:
The jury in the John Edwards campaign corruption trial has reached a verdict on one of six counts, but is apparently deadlocked on the others.
The judge told the jury Thursday that she understood that the panel had reached a verdict on all counts, and the jury foreman said no.
The jury said it had reached a verdict on one count of taking illegal campaign contributions. The money involves payments from wealthy donor Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. The verdict was not announced.
Prosecutors argued that the jury should keep deliberating and the defense asked for the verdict to be read. They also want a mistrial on the other counts.
3.04pm: Chaos at all cable news channels over the John Edwards trial verdict non-verdict:
MSNBC anchor: Can you explain what’s happened?
NBC chief justice correspondent Pete Williams: No.
That piece of quality journalism brings to mind The Day Today:
Chris Morris: We’re pushed for time, can you sum it up in a word?
Spartacus Mills: No.
Morris: A sound?
2.57pm: To recap: the John Edwards trial jury has reached a verdict on one of the six counts, and is still considering the others.
Jeffery Tobin, CNN’s senior legal analyst, has this to say:
Let me put this simply: this is a mess. This is not how trials are supposed to end.
Once again, the US legal system is awesome.
2.50pm: John Edwards verdict: a unanimous verdict has been reached on only one count – count three apparently – of accepting illegal campaign contributions in 2008 related to wealthy John Edwards supporter Bunny Mellon.
It appears that the jury has been sent back to the court jury room for further deliberation on other counts, although Fox News is reporting “Jury deadlocked on most counts”.
What all this means will become clear soon. We hope.
2.42pm: A quick survey of cable television channels suggests that all of them – maybe the Cooking Channel as well, I didn’t get that far – is gearing up for the John Edwards verdict.
Based on “legal experts” on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News, John Edwards may or may not be found guilty or not guilty.
2.36pm: A quick reminder: John Edwards – the former Democratic senator and 2004 vice presidential candidate – is on trial for misusing campaign contributions. If convicted on all six counts, Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5m in fines.
Ana Marie Cox has grave thoughts.
2.26pm: While we wait for the John Edwards verdict to be announced, here’s the funky socks that former president George HW Bush wore at the White House today for the unveiling of his son’s presidential portrait.
Check those beauties out.
2.20pm: Verdict in the John Edwards case coming up shortly, in 15 minutes or so. Maximum sentence: 30 years in prison.
2.09pm: Back to Boston for the on-going controversy involving US senate candidate Elizabeth Warren‘s Native American heritage, or lack there-of – and it’s getting nasty.
Last night Warren defended her claim – which she is unable to document – of having Native American lineage by attributing it to “my mother and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles often talked about our family’s Native American heritage. As a kid, I never thought to ask them for documentation – what kid would?”
Scott Brown, the Republican that Warren is challenging, is said to have responded by saying “My mom and dad have told me a lot of things too, but they’re not always true.”
That’s led Warren’s campaign to blast out an email saying “My Parents Are Not Fair Game,” writing:
Scott Brown’s comments about my parents are totally out of line. I resent him questioning their honesty.
1.47pm: While this presidential lovefest is going on at the White House, Mitt Romney has shepherded a group of journalists to the site of the defunct Solyndra solar panel manufacturer.
But whatever coverage the Romney campaign was expecting has been squashed somewhat by the portrait unveiling – which Fox News diligently covered in full.
Jim Antle has a suggestion.
1.39pm: “Thank you for feeding all 14 members of the Bush family that are here,” says George Bush to Obama as he replies, after the portraits themselves have been unveiled, having already thanked Obama “for inviting my rowdy friends to my hanging.”
Bush notes that the gallery of presidential portraits now has a symmetry: “It now starts and ends with a George W.” (The first “George W” being George Washington.)
He goes on to recall how Dolley Madison saved the portrait of George Washington when the British set fire to the White House in the war of 1812. “Now Michelle, if anything happens, there’s your man,” he grins, gesturing at his own portrait.
Bush – or his speechwriter – is on fine form this afternoon: “And now, Mr President, as you ponder tough decisions, you can gaze at this portrait and wonder, ‘What would George do?’”
Bush even tears up briefly when he mentions his father “41″, but ends with another family gag: “It is now my privilege to introduce the greatest first lady ever – sorry Ma.”
Laura Bush even delivers a sharp joke: “Nothing makes a house a home like pictures of its former occupants staring down at you.”
1.29pm: An outbreak of bipartisanship in the White House today, as George and Laura Bush make a visit for the public unveiling of their official presidential portraits.
President Obama makes the speech of dedication, and speaks about the difficult moments of economic turmoil the country was going through between his election and inauguration:
George, you went out of your way, to ensure that the transition was as seamless as possible, I’ll always be grateful for that. The same is true for national security.
Obama also says thanks from himself and Michelle for the help the Bushes gave his family in making the transition to moving to the White House. “Plus you also left me a really good TV sports package,” says Obama, to laughs.
1.15pm: On the mystery of Mitt Romney’s embrace of Donald Trump, despite Trump’s serial wing-nuttery on the matter of Barack Obama’s birthplace, Jim Antle had a very fine explanation over on Cif America:
Romney isn’t terribly hip. He doesn’t have many supporters who hang out in the same room with Kim Kardashian. Trump, whatever his political opinions or personal faults, is a pop culture icon. The “Celebrity Apprentice” is a hit television show. As much as Republicans claim to disdain the Hollywood left, they seldom eschew celebrity support – even when those supporters prove ridiculous. (And indeed, many celebrities believe ridiculous things.)
1.09pm: The New York Times’s Michael Shear has more on the Boston talk party:
The event was supposed to have been a secret. The campaign did not announce Mr Axelrod’s appearance in Mr Romney’s hometown until early Thursday morning, although word of it leaked out on Twitter late Wednesday.
Once in Boston, what had been billed as a news conference had the intensity of a late-October political rally, complete with dueling signs, noisemakers and competing chants. At one point, Democratic supporters behind Mr Axelrod chanted: “Let him talk! Let him talk!”
Politco has some tawdry video of the affair.
1.06pm: On today’s scenes in Boston, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein says: “The prospect of covering stuff like this for five more months is daunting and scary”:
Before [Axelrod] could get started, the event was sabotaged by a group of Romney supporters and aides who jeered, booed and even blew bubbles into the crowd. Shouts of “four more years” were countered with cries of “five more months.” Talk of the president’s accomplishments were met with chants of Solyndra and Cory Booker – the latter in reference to the Newark mayor’s off-message criticism of the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain Capital.
Maybe choose a better venue next time?
12.50pm: Speaking of marriage – a very odd story from the Miami Herald involving rising Republican star Pam Bondi, Florida‘s attorney general.
Sixty or 70 guests at a luxury Caribbean resort, including the governor and a former Tampa mayor. A beaming bride in a white dress with a flower in her hair. A photographer flown in to take pictures of the smiling couple with aqua water behind them.
But Attorney General Pam Bondi says no ceremony took place at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman on Saturday. And many questions remain about when and why Bondi made the last-minute decision not to get married.
Did Bondi bow to conservative critics who felt her jaunt across seas was politically tone deaf? The 46-year-old now says she will be wed in a small, private ceremony at a Tampa-area Baptist church.
12.36pm: Because it’s lunch time, here are what sandwiches tailor-made for individual US states look like.
12.20pm: The circus-like event on the steps of the Massachusetts state house – as Romney supporters attempted to drown out a press conference by the Obama campaign’s David Axelrod attacking Romney record as governor of Massachusetts – prevailed until the end.
Axelrod managed at least one good joke. Saying he was happy Romney started creating jobs in Massachusetts, he quipped: “Too bad it’s for hecklers.”
11.54pm: More background on the First US Circuit Court of Appeals decision today, which ruled unconstitutional those portions of the Defence of Marriage Act barring married gay couples from receiving the federal benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.
The unanimous ruling from the panel of three judges was narrow and pointedly did not address Doma’s most controversial aspects: recognition of gay marriages performed in other states, or whether same-sex couples have a right to marry under the US constitution.
That aside, gay rights groups are celebrating the ruling, especially Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Boston-based group of lawyers that brought one of the lawsuits on behalf of gay married couples. Lee Swislow, GLAD’s executive director, told AP today:
We’ve been working on this issue for so many years, and for the court to acknowledge that yes, same-sex couples are legally married, just as any other couple, is fantastic and extraordinary.
11.30am: The writing is on the wall for the Defense of Marriage Act, says the Human Rights Campaign after today’s ruling by the Court of Appeals first circuit:
This ruling is a historic victory for loving gay and lesbian couples and their children,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “For the first time, a federal appeals court has recognized that our constitution will not tolerate a law that forces the federal government to deny lawfully-married same-sex couples equal treatment. The writing is clearly on the wall for the demise of this unjust and indefensible law that hurts real families.
Under Doma, lawfully-married gay couples are denied more than 1,100 rights, benefits and responsibilities under federal law, including Social Security survivor benefits, federal employee health benefits for spouses, the right to sponsor a foreign-born partner for immigration and the ability to file joint tax returns.
11.11am: Meanwhile, back at the Massachusetts State House, the Mitt Romney campaign’s counter-rally-protest didn’t last long.
On the scene is the Boston Globe’s ace correspondent and political editor Glen Johnson, who is tweeting the scene.
Johnson reports that cheers of “Fired up and ready to go” from the Obama supporters are met with retort of “Mitt, Mitt, Mitt” from the Romney camp. “Chaos building,” he notes.
11am: It seems like all of today’s news is coming out of Boston today – with Democratic US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren issuing a statement on her claims to Native American heritage.
Warren’s – so far unsubstantiated – claims to Native American lineage has become an issue in her election battle against incumbent Republican senator Scott Brown. In an attempt to defuse the subject, Warren said late last night:
I let people know about my Native American heritage in a national directory of law school personnel. At some point after I was hired by them, I also provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it, and I have been open about it.
The Boston Globe reports:
Warren’s statement is her first acknowledgment that she identified herself as Native American to the Ivy League schools. While she has said she identified herself as a minority in a legal directory, she has carefully avoided any suggestion during the last month that she took further actions to promote her purported heritage.
When the issue first surfaced last month, Warren said she only learned Harvard was claiming her as a minority when she read it in the Boston Herald.
Warren’s new statement came after the Globe asked her campaign about documents it obtained Wednesday from Harvard’s library showing that the university’s law school began reporting a Native American female professor in federal statistics for the 1992-93 school year, the first year Warren worked at Harvard, as a visiting professor.
10.44am: The full decision from the First US Court of Appeals, ruling section three of the Defence of Marriage Act unconstitutional, is now online.
The ruling – authored by Judge Michael Boudin for the three judge panel – comes in two cases: Gill v Office of Personnel Management, brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders on behalf of married Massachusetts same-sex couples denied federal rights and benefits, and Massachusetts v Department of Health and Human Services, brought by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts itself.
The case will almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court, as the appellate court notes in its decision today – and places a stay on its ruling:
Anticipating that certiorari will be sought and that Supreme Court review of Doma is highly likely, the mandate is stayed, maintaining the district court’s stay of its injunctive judgment, pending further order of this court.
Here’s one highlight from the decision:
To conclude, many Americans believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and most Americans live in states where that is the law today. One virtue of federalism is that it permits this diversity of governance based on local choice, but this applies as well to the states that have chosen to legalize same-sex marriage. Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.
The three judges on the panel were unanimous in supporting the ruling. Two of the three were Republican appointees: Judge Michael Boudin was appointed by George HW Bush, while Judge Juan Torruella was appointed by Ronald Reagan. Chief Judge Sandra Lynch was appointed by Bill Clinton.
10.34am: The Associated Press files a quick write-through on the decision to rule section three of Doma unconstitutional out of Boston this morning:
An appeals court ruled Thursday that a law that denies a host of federal benefits to gay married couples is unconstitutional.
The First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminates against gay couples.
The appeals court agreed with a lower court judge who ruled in 2010 that the law is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including the ability to file joint tax returns.
During arguments before the court last month, a lawyer for gay married couples said the law amounts to “across-the-board disrespect.” The couples argued that the power to define and regulate marriage had been left to the states for more than 200 years before Congress passed DOMA.
An attorney defending the law argued that Congress had a rational basis for passing it in 1996, when opponents worried that states would be forced to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. The group said Congress wanted to preserve a traditional and uniform definition of marriage and has the power to define terms used to federal statutes to distribute federal benefits.
10.25am: To explain why the first circuit Court of Appeals ruling on the Defence of Marriage Act is significant – given the multiple federal court cases on gay marriage working their way through the legal system right now – it is because this is the first decision from the federal appellate level.
There are three other cases on the constitutionality of gay marriage awaiting decisions from federal appeals court – all of them being decided by the ninth circuit, which includes the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 constitutional amendment and the Doma challenge upheld by a federal judge in California last week.
10.18am: Some actual news out of Boston, rather than presidential campaign jostling: the First US Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) – which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman – discriminates against gay couples.
This is a big deal and sets up another Supreme Court showdown over gay marriage.
Doma was passed in 1996 during the Clinton administration. Massachusetts, though, has allowed gay marriage since May 2004. In 2010, a federal judge in Massachusetts declared Doma unconstitutional, on the grounds that the law interferes with the right of a state to define marriage.
10.06am: There are scenes of some amusement on the steps outside the Massachusetts state house, as Romney campaigners and supporters try to squat on the site of the Obama campaign’s press conference scheduled to start shortly.
9.30am: Mitt Romney‘s record as governor of Massachusetts gets the full glare of the presidential campaign today, as the Obama team holds a high-profile press conference in the Bay State this morning.
David Axelrod will hold the press conference on the steps on the Massachusetts capital at 10.30am ET – with the Romney campaign holding its own pre-butal press conference at the same venue half an hour earlier.
To prepare for the dueling press briefings, here’s a video released last night by the Obama campaign, attacking Romney’s claims to be a job creator and tax cutter, from his time in Massachusetts.
Here is a summary of some of the latest developments from Ryan Devereaux:
• The Obama campaign has launched a new attack against Mitt Romney, targeting the GOP candidate’s record as governor of Massachusetts. Obama’s senior strategist, David Axelrod, issued a detailed memo claiming that during his tenure in Massachusetts: “Romney campaigned for governor on the promises of more jobs, decreased debt and smaller government. When he left office, however, state debt had increased, the size of government had grown, and over his four years, Massachusetts’s record of job creation was among the worst in the nation.” This morning the president’s team will hold a press conference to promote their claim that Romney failed as a governor. The attack is accompanied by a new video from the Obama team entitled Broken Promises, which features Massachusetts politicians complaining about Romney’s time as governor.
• Former president George Bush will visit the White House today for the ceremonial unveiling of his official presidential portrait. President Obama has repeatedly reminded voters of the problems he inherited following Bush as means to bolster his re-election efforts. White House spokesman Jay Carney, however, says the there will be no politics coming from Obama’s side today and even suggested the two men may be able to bond over serving as president.
• Bush’s former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice endorsed Mitt Romney’s bid for president last night at a fundraising event in California. Many have suggested Rice would make an excellent running mate for Romney. As an African American and a woman, she could help the former governor appeal to two demographics he’s struggled to connect with. As a key member of Bush’s foreign policy team, some believe Rice would be an asset.